COVID-19 story by Martín Alvarado, 2020

Martín Alvarado shares his experience during the Safer at Home social distancing measures in Madison, Wisconsin. Martín describes his family relationships during social distancing, the work he is doing for the City of Madison and Madison Public Library, and what his neighborhood on the north side of Madison is like during this time.

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  • Index
    [00:00:47] - Talk about your Covid-19 Safer at Home story
    [00:07:55] - The landscape of information is changing on a daily basis
    [00:09:51] - How has your job changed since moving to working from home
    [00:12:19] - Everyone is getting intimate knowledge of the neighborhood they live in
    [00:12:55] - It really opens your eyes to a lot of things right in front of your face
    [00:14:29] - Is there anything else you want to talk about
    [00:15:22] - Happy to hear your family is doing well


    INTERVIEWER: Hello. My name is Andres Torres. I'm here with the Stories From a Distance, which is part of the Living History Project. Today is Friday, April 24, 2020. And now I'll let the narrator introduce themselves.

    NARRATOR: This is Martín Alvarado. I work for the Madison Public Library. I've been a resident of Madison for about, uh, about 23 years now. I was originally born in Mexico City and lived there until I was about 20, so at this point I feel like I'm more from Madison than anywhere else, just because I've spent so much time here, and that I really still embrace a lot of my heritage that I think I've definitely become from around here.

    INTERVIEWER: Awesome. Well, thank you for being with us here today, Martin. And really what you're here to do today is talk about your Covid-19 Safer at Home story, so if you'd like to start with that.

    NARRATOR: Sure, sure, I guess I'll start. I was probably one of the last people to leave the Central Library on the last day of operations before the library closed and I think I just—now that I have time to reflect—I remember just how concerned when we saw the first cases coming along, and I think we all started mentally preparing that something was going to change, but I think it was just really disconcerting how quickly it happened because it seemed like it was something very distant and all of a sudden once it happened things moved really quickly. I remember that last Monday—I think it was the 17th or 18th, I don't remember exactly—the library couldn't close until there was a formal a formal act or order from the mayor so we kept operations that day and then that day we just saw some libraries weren't staffed so we were operating at a little bit of capacity and then there was this, like, avalanche of different libraries that closed during that day and at Central we continued to work until 9 o'clock that day. We did have a number of coworkers who had to leave; some were older adults who just wanted to get home and there was not enough things to do to justify having them there and then we also had a coworker whose parents both had Covid symptoms and likely were being affected by it with, like, everything just medically feeling like they had [Covid]. So I think for me it was just amazing how quickly it went to—how difficult it was even to come up with guidelines to figure out how to do your work. We tried our best to try to enforce six feet distance even though, yeah, I don't think we had a procedure then, but we tried as best as we could and then we left the building and haven't come back since.

    So it's been interesting to try to readjust after that. But I'm really glad that things are where they are. I know that there's a lot of different hardships that people are coming through and I see that with my neighbors and some members of my family that are really in a tight spot so I guess, yeah, feeling all those just conflicted feelings about the situation. It's not an easy [place] to be in.

    So, one of the very unique things that happened to me is that for about the first four weeks, almost the first full month since my job closed, and I was working from home, was that my family was away for that long. My daughter was up north with her cousin and aunt and uncle for about four weeks because they got laid off so they stayed up there, and so I was here on my own. I was doing a lot of video chatting; I was catching up with them; I was happy to have a cat and chickens to keep me company. Had the sad thing where I guess I wasn't smart enough and hadn't been trained enough to take care of my daughter's pet fish, pet beta [fish], and I had to break the news to her as soon as she came home that Cookie had died, so it was—yeah, I guess when you are part of this whole family unit and everyone has functions and then you end up being one of the people who does a lot of things outside the home, when you have responsibility with the home you're not prepared, so I think I've been really trying to up my game in taking care of plants. I've definitely cooked much more than I had, like, in the past twenty years or so, so I guess something good is coming out of that.

    But, yeah, then the other part of my family which would be my—my daughter's now here with me, which has been just a tremendous relief and great for my mood and everything, but the other part of my family—my wife, my son, and my brother-in-law—are in Mississippi because my brother-in-law is medically fragile and has a suppressed immune system and was going there before anything of this happened. He already had a scheduled medical appointment, so they have been down there trying to get all these interventions and medical stuff figured out. But what I was—I think that's relevant for us because for about the last two years we have been practicing all these protocols that now people are adopting, so we didn't have that much emphasis on not touching our faces but every time we came into the house or did anything we sanitized our hands, we washed our hands, we sanitized surfaces just because we were very aware that my brother-in-law could suffer because of those things so we were being extra careful.

    So I think this mindset it's—we're kind of in that mindset but now it's, like, maybe, ten times more of the precautions and the care that you take when you go out into the world and come back into the house that feel also like, it's been a bit of a challenge sort of rightsizing, what the amount of precautions were. I think at the beginning I was just almost like sanitizing every single thing from the grocery store and really putting a lot of time—and at that point I had a lot of time—but I think over time we start to develop more nuanced approaches. We still are very careful but maybe we're not, like, doing things—I guess we were very limited in what we thought we could do so we really put ourselves into doing those measures as thoroughly as we could.

    And, yeah, the other part of that is my parents live in town, but I haven't been able to—I've been able to see them, but I've been able to see them through their window because they're both in their seventies and they have some health problems. I was really relieved when my father, who was having some symptoms, was able to get a Covid test and tested negative, and that was a huge relief, and I guess I was really grateful that they had access to medical services where they were able to do that, but I know of other people who have just had just positive tests, and just that has really drowned their whole life into, like, just chaos and so, anyway, I have been coming over to my parents' windows. I will leave things for them on the table that's in front of their house, my mother signed my vote for the last election and sort of came in with her own pen, touched it, then washed her hands, and I took the ballot and I think, I guess the one thing that I'm really curious about is how many people already have had the coronavirus, like what is the prevalence in our society, and I hope that we're able to get more testing to figure out where we are because I think eventually we're going to have to continue doing things and the sooner we have the information, the better.

    INTERVIEWER: Yeah, that's one of the interesting things is just, you know, how on seemingly a daily basis we're getting new information or information that we've heard is changing and that kind of goes along with the precautions you were taking, you know, like what surfaces does the virus live on the longest or which surfaces transmit the virus more easily, but then now we're hearing about the percentages of people who've had the Covid virus and not shown any symptoms whatsoever, so it's—the landscape of information is changing on a daily basis.

    NARRATOR: I think even us as librarians we're used to dealing with information overload, but this has been an overload that's been way beyond any other thing we've had to deal with so even trying to sort out and even—I think we've maybe have found each of us like a few trusted sources that we've followed that digest this information for us but even staying on top of that, as you said, the guidance has changed from day to day or like something is discovered about a new transmission, or like another group of people that is affected so it's just like, I think, just probably one of the conflicting relationships I have with the information is that I feel sort of—like really maybe I shouldn't be like looking for stuff all the time but I feel like knowing more gives me a sense of control even though at the same time it's probably something that also worries me, but I feel like this sort of search for constant information just sort of has this double-sided aspect of it. At the same time it's a little bit distressing, but it also provides some, I think understanding terrible things helps you process them a little bit better?

    INTERVIEWER: Definitely. Could you talk a little bit, Martín, about the way your job has changed since moving to working from home?

    NARRATOR: Yeah, so I guess a lot of have been through video conferences which has become a big thing. We're also doing much more email than we ever did, and I have been working primarily in two other aspects of city operations. One has been doing research for the mayor's office and the city government to figure out, just looking at what other cities are doing to see if any of those ideas can be brought here and just researching specific aspects like unemployment and testing so that that information is available for people who need to make decisions. And the other one has been translating into Spanish so that a lot of this information that's made available in English is also available. I've also seen that there's translation into Hmong, translation into Mandarin, so I feel like it's good, there's been a number of different people throughout the city who have been able to, like, lend these skills to complement and to be, I think, more effective in reaching people and, yeah, I guess we still need to just keep going and making sure everyone has access to information that's supported because I think what this pandemic has taught is that if anyone is not secure in everything it just has a consequence on the rest of society. And, I mean, a lot of us would like to think that we want to have a regard for everyone regardless of whether there's a pandemic or not but a lot of times the pandemic has just moved people toward these values that a lot of us already held.

    And then just, I guess, yeah, for work that's a big aspect but also been trying to do something to get me out of the house, and that's been riding my bicycle and that's been exploring parks, exploring side streets, trying to stay away from other people, going out with my daughter and learning new things and looking at some of the wildlife around Warner Park has been fun. And we tried flying a kite the other day but there wasn't enough wind, but at least it got us out of the house. And today we're going to go to one of our neighbor's houses. Well, we're not even going to go to the neighbor's house, we're going to stand on the curb; they live across the street, and we're going to sing happy birthday from our side of the street.

    INTERVIEWER: That’s great. I think everybody is starting to get very intimate knowledge of the neighborhoods that they live in during this time.

    NARRATOR: And I think you notice, like, Oh, like, I never noticed that this house has, like, a carving that's very unique and then you notice, like, Oh, like, and that step over there has, like, a little number or something, so you—it's sort of—I think we're so limited in what we're able to do that we are really taking in all the details that, like, normally we'd just walk by or even drive by or bike by and not even notice.

    INTERVIEWER: Yeah, that's interesting. Our lives are so big in the scope of the area we cover on a daily basis, you know, even if you're just working—going to work on a daily basis, that when you're kind of confined to your neighborhood it really opens your eyes to a lot of the things right in front of your face.

    NARRATOR: I think the other part of this, sort of, this thirst, whereas before I would have tried to consume as much as I can on this screen as an escape, right now I just try to experience as much as I can of the outside world just as a way of keeping my sanity and my mood by just really relishing the fact that I, yeah, can still go outside. It's still, I think, relatively safe in the Madison area but I think the other part is, yeah, we don't know how this is going to play out in a few weeks [or] months from now, so it's always, I think, having that uncertainty in the back of your head that it just makes it difficult and sort of like, yeah—I think a lot of times it’s I think we tend to hold on a lot of stress and for me, like, music has been able—has been a way of really processing a lot of difficult emotions more than anything else. Especially when I was alone it's like, hey, so where do I find refuge—in music and, and just words and things that either people who had gone through hardships or, yeah, just things that are sort of like the old with this sort of mood or uncertainty and crisis.

    INTERVIEWER: Yeah, definitely I think it's important for all of us to have those kind of ways we can find refuge in this time to kind of retreat to our own little worlds and experience a little bit of joy away from the anxiety of what's going on. Is there anything else that you would like to talk about before we finish the interview?

    NARRATOR: You know, I think I pretty much touched on everything; I can't really think of anything else, but, yeah, it's been a great opportunity to have some time to step back and actually sort of collect my thoughts about a lot of that has been happening because a lot of times you don't really express it to the people that are right next to you, but it's always such a great service when people do this sort of thing to really let you think about and reflect.

    INTERVIEWER: Yeah, and I'm happy to hear that your family is doing well and that your father tested negative for corona. That must have definitely been a stressful situation, I imagine.

    NARRATOR: Yes.

    INTERVIEWER: And I'd just like to thank you for sharing your story, Martín, and just kind of giving us a peek into your experience during this Safer at Home order here in Madison, so, thank you very much.

    NARRATOR: And I look forward to learning more about what other people were doing, so I'm really happy that this project's going on, and I thank you and all the people involved for making this happen.

    INTERVIEWER: Of course, you're welcome. I'm happy to be a part of it myself; so, alright, thanks a lot.

    NARRATOR: Take care.